Friday, October 21, 2016


Tuesday, April 12, 2016


We all live and move within circles.  We have our circle of family.  We have circles of friends and of co-workers.  And we have circles for special interests and special needs.  Our circles are made up of kindred spirits.  We trust the members inside. They are our safety net when we are vulnerable.  But the reality is that our circles are constantly evolving.  People move in and out of our circles depending on the situations in our lives.
When Emily was born, my circle of friends changed. I struggled with the grief that came with having a child with a disability. I had lost my own identity, the mom I used to be before Emily’s birth. I had lost the child I dreamed that Emily would be. I focused on becoming the mom my family needed me to be.  I was abruptly thrown into a circle with other parents who also had children with disabilities. Those people touched our lives with their words and examples. They dispelled my feelings of aloneness. I took support from those in this circle who were there before me and later, I gave support to those who came after me. 
The circles I knew before Emily was born, changed.  Some people slowly drifted out because we no longer shared the same priorities.  And others, I unknowingly pushed away when I put expectations on them. Those expectations put undue pressure on my friends and set me up for self-initiating disappointment. Eventually I learned that just as I get to choose how, and with whom, I walk my journey, they get to choose how, and with whom, they walk their journey. If others choose to continue to walk with me, I am blessed. And if they choose another path, then I am blessed for the time they did walk with me.  
My circles changed again when Emily died.  I desperately did not want to lose the support within the parent’s circle.  As I faced the challenges of finding a new normal, I clung to the familiarity of those relationships. But the focus of raising Emily had necessitated my being in the circle, and when that focus was gone, the need for the circle was gone.  Gradually it became obvious that I no longer belonged there. For the other parents, I, minus Emily, was an all-too-real reminder of the fragility of life. For me, seeing the intact families was a painful reminder of all that I had lost.  It was fully two years after Emily died that I finally sent a note to the Down Syndrome Association of St. Louis and asked them to take me off the mailing list for their monthly newsletter. That notes was the final event that severed my connection from the circle of parents of children with disabilities.
I became part of a different circle – one for parents whose children have died.  Now grief was my daily focus, and it threatened to consume me.  As my journey took me through the swamp of loss, I experienced many “secondary losses” which heaped grief upon grief. I felt like I would drown in it.  I surrounded myself with people who had traveled this road before me.  When I was lost, they gave me direction.   When I was weak, I relied on their strength.  When I was confused, I used their wisdom.  When I despised myself, I soaked in their love.  And in turn, I gave that support to those who came behind me.

It’s now been nine years since Emily died. Now my question is, “How long do I stay in this circle?” The circle where I expect to be sad every day, where I struggle to allow myself to feel joy, where I feel guilty when I am happy, where I disapprove of myself for wanting to move on, and where I never feel that I have done enough penance for my imagined failings as a mother. I have been tempted to succumb to the black holes of anger, despair, and self-loathing,  but now I am ready to step out of that circle.  I am not looking to forget Emily,  or to forget the people who were so significant in our lives. Her presence was so very significant! It was hard and  it was so wonderfully simple. It was great and it was awful. 
 So, I don’t want your pity and I don’t want your sympathy. I trust God to set my feet on the paths that I should go, and to set the right people in those paths to help me along the way. I trust that He knows all about it, and that He has it all in control. I take comfort that this world is not the end of life.   I now belong to a circle in which my focus is on life instead of on death, a circle in which I celebrate life and embrace both the blessings and cursings that I am given.  


One year later

  On October 10th, 2015, Ray and I moved out of our stick-built house and began a journey in travel nursing.  For 12 months now, all of our worldly possessions have fit into a 34-foot motor home and a 10x10 storage unit which holds those few items we can't bear to part with - yet.
  This year, we've put about 2900 miles on the motorhome.  We have parked in 12 campsites and 2 truckstops. We've endured countless detours, enjoyed many adventures and explored the lands and cultures along our routes. We've collected friends and memories and Christmas ornaments.
  I have worked a 13-week nursing assignment in Arlington,Texas, another 13 weeks in Mauston, Wisconsin, and a third 13-week assignment in Columbia, Missouri. I feel a bit like Johnny Appleseed, collecting tidbits and tricks of the trade in one place and spreading it to others.
  There is a trade off in this journey.  The familiar versus the undiscovered,  a comfort-zone versus the uncharted, the expected versus the unknown.
  But the joys outweigh the frustrations, the sweetness surpasses the sours, and the call of the road is stronger than the longing for home. And so, we will continue the journey.
   I feel a bit of kinship with Robert Frost when he wrote this poem:

                                                               The Road not taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


















Saturday, February 6, 2016

Why are we here?

    Why are we here?
    The thought still comes to me, not as often as it used to, but still on a daily basis.  Why are we doing this?  Why did we leap outside our comfort zone?   It’s one thing to be forced into change when the unforeseen things happen in our lives.  When the unplanned things happen, we have no choice but to find  “new normal” lives.  But to do it willingly?
     I ask “Why?” when I feel lonely.  I miss Seth’s hug and humor. I miss the sounds of simple joys shared on Granny days.  I miss my friends, those kindred spirits that hold the secrets of my soul and love me despite.
     I ask “Why?” when I feel lost, when I am at work and I’m the ‘new girl’, and the learning curve is steep and I feel stupid.  I used to know where supplies where kept, where other departments were, what the preferences for each doctor was.  I used to be the educator of new nurses and residents and of students. I used to be smart, and I miss that me.
     I ask “Why?” when I feel like I am in limbo-land.  Now, having finished week five of a 13 week contract, I realize that we are almost halfway to picking up and moving to another new city, with another new job, another new grocery store, another new salon, another new everything.
     But a treasured friend reminded me “You can’t have the rainbow without the rain.”  So I turned the coin over and the “Why’s” that were the rain of this adventure, became the rainbow! 
     Being lonely at times means I am blessed to have someone to be lonely for. Social media became a lifeline for connectedness.  Relationships with family and friends are more precious, less taken for granted.  The lyrics from a song from my Girl Scout days goes like this "Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold".  I am not replacing jewels, I am collecting more.
     Being the ‘new girl’ means that I am free of the pressure of living up to other people’s expectations  and I’m reminding myself that it’s OK to let someone else be the over-achiever. The challenge of learning keeps me sharp and the hazy dullness that was creeping in my mind is gone.
     My auto-pilot life of daily routines is transformed.  I no longer make a daily things-to-do list that never gets completed. Some days, Ray and I explore the new surrounding and other days we are content to be together in the 34 foot space we now call home. 
     And If you really stretch your imagination, every vehicle has a face.  I’m serious here. The eyes are the windshield and the grill is the mouth.  Yesterday, Ray picked me up from work, and as we pulled into our drive at the campsite, our motorhome smiled at me.   I breathed out the peace I felt, “Ahhh, it is so good to be home”.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

There's no place like home

   There really is no place like home. 
   When Ray and I made the decision that I would become a traveling nurse, we had just an inkling of what all that would entail.  But knowing that it would mean leaving our home, we decided to bring our home with us.  We bought a 34 foot Fleetwood Bounder Motor home and gave away or sold most of our earthly possessions. We rented out our house to cover the cost of the mortgage and moved into the Bounder. 
   Our first campsite was in Herrin, in the same town as our house.    Four Seasons Campground was our RV pre-school.  That’s where we learned how to hook up and tear down the electric, the water and the sewer.  Ray learned how to use the leveler legs to stabilize the camper.  We made many trips back to the house as we figured out what we could and what we couldn’t live without.  We stayed there for 3 weeks.
  All we knew about my first nursing assignment was that it was to be in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas.  The plan was to go to Texas, set up the motor home, and get my Texas RN license.  And while waiting for the final word about at which hospital I would work, we would come back by car to Illinois for Christmas with our family.
    We left Herrin on Dec 12th, 2015.  We drove just 25 miles down the road to Murphysboro, IL. and went to a family birthday party.  We spent the night hooked up at Mudline Lodging. The sunrise was stunning, and we took off with the optimism that comes with not knowing what lies ahead.  Within one mile, the navigation tablet died.   Besides losing the GPS, we lost our entire carefully planned itinerary.  We turned around, picked up a spare GPS and left again.  When we finally stopped in Benton, Arkansas, at the I-30 Travel Park, in the middle of thunderstorm, with wind gusts of 15-20 mph. Ray had wrestled that motor home for almost 9 hours.  We were wet, cold, exhausted and glad to crawl into our own bed.
    The next day, we crossed the state line into Texas and pulled into the Welcome Center.   The sun was bright, the air crisp and clear, and we were just plain giddy with excitement!  Ray got on his hands and knees and kissed the ground. Life was good!
   By 3 pm, we had been turned away from four RV parks because of no-vacancy.   We finally found a spot at “East Fork Park” an Army Corp of Engineers’ campground in Wylie,Tx.  There was water and electric hook up but no sewer and no internet.  And although we were grateful for a place to rest, this would not do for long-term set up. 
   I accepted a 13-week assignment at the Medical Center of Arlington.  We scouted around for campsites and found many within 30 miles of the hospital, but TreeTops quickly became our first choice.  Unfortunately, they had no long-term openings so we were put on a waiting list. 
  We moved the motor home to Dodge City RV park, near Mansfield, TX.  Ray had grown up watching “Gunsmoke” on TV with his grandfather, and living in Dodge City seemed to be a perfect fit.  But, basically,  it was a gravel parking lot for campers with maybe 20 feet between neighbors.  The few trees there, were barely taller than Ray is and the thought of summer without shade was not appealing.   Although Dodge City was only about 15 miles from the hospital, it took almost 30 minutes to get me to work, in traffic up to 4 lanes deep.  And since we were down to only one car, Ray was driving back and forth twice a day.
   Two weeks later, we got the call from TreeTops! We moved on Jan 9th.  We now have a concrete slab and a picnic table, a tree on both the east and west side of the camper, a privacy hedge on the lane side of the camper, and we are within walking distance to the laundry and shower house.  We are within 3 miles of my work, within 2 minutes of a super-Target (groceries) and within 3 minutes of Cooper avenue, the main drag in Arlington.   When we pull into our campground and onto our lane, it is amazingly quiet.  The closest neighbor on the west is across the lane and on the east is an empty lot that one day will be a Rec center, and beyond that is the pool!  We hear the birds sing all day long, and crickets chirp in the evening. The rose bushes are blooming in January. 
    We have pulled this motor home to 6 campgrounds, and it is here that I finally feel like I am home and I have come to realize that home isn’t just about 4 walls and a roof and the stuff inside.  Home is about the place where you feel safe and where you can relax and feel peace. It is the place you share with the one you love.
   I hope that wherever you are, wherever you roam, that when you lay your head on your pillow to sleep, that you have a place that you call home.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Reality is different than the dream

    In most everything, the reality of a thing is different than the dream of the thing.  The dream of the gypsy life was romantic and exciting, but when the rubber actually hit the road, it was stressful and challenging and scary.
    Even with months of researching and planning, our first trip was anything but smooth.  Ray and I felt like a pair of salmon, swimming upstream, being bashed on unforseen obstacles, making little headway despite constant struggle.
    A Marine corp saying became our motto: Adapt, Improvise, Overcome. My self-talk also included  "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.", "Turn the coin over and look at the other side." and "Look for the blessing in the cursing."   It was one thing to say these words once or even twice a day, but when a new situation happened 10-15 times in a day, it was hard to keep a positive attitude, and easy to start doubting the sanity of the whole adventure idea.
    Change is hard.  We had changed every facet of our lives with the turn of the key in the ignition of a motorhome.  Brushing teeth, cooking a meal, getting mail, paying bills, traffic... it all was different.  There was no relaxing in the familiar routines of living.
    And although Ray and I were together in this, I was lonely.  I missed "my peeps", my family, my co-workers, my friends.
    Our first Sunday in an new church, the sermon was from Proverbs 3:5,6 "Lean not on your own understanding.   In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." Oh, what familiar words.  I started to relax into that sweet spot of being held in His hand.
    My first day in a new job, I arrived very early.  I started exploring and found the chapel, turned the Bible to my personal verse, Isaiah 41:10, and found it already ink marked.  Someone before me had found comfort in it.  "Do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will harden you to difficulties.  I will help you."  It was like a hug from a dear friend. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

      There's 2 sides to a coin and there's always at least 2 sides to everything in life.  So it is with traveling.    At the same time there is joy in the going, there is grief in the leaving.
       I am leaving my family, and granny days, and holiday traditions.
       I am leaving my grocery store and my gas station, and my bank, and my post office and my church and all the familiar faces who are woven into the fabric of my life and who are now part of my past.     
       I am leaving dear friends, and trusted co-workers.  I am leaving patients whom I have shared intimate events in their lives.  I am leaving my reputation, and leaving the mark I have made in the evolution of the department.
      The saying is "You can't ever go back home"  doesn't mean you can't go back from where you left.   It means that the home you left is not the same home you will return to.   Buildings will be torn down, or re-purposed, businesses will close down, children will grow up, people will change or move, relationships will fade.
      If I think about all that too much, I could almost talk myself out of going, but when I look at the other side of the coin,  I am certain of my decision to go.  I am not running away from a person or a situation, I am running to an adventure, an experience of a lifetime!


Saturday, January 2, 2016

      I think I've always had a yen to travel, to go somewhere new and exciting. But too often, it was not just about going somewhere, it was also about leaving somewhere. 
      I was in 3rd grade the first time I went to Girl Scout camp, and for the next 10 years, those 2 weeks each summer provided a respite from a hard life.
      At age 19, I ran from my childhood, straight into the arms of my first husband.  I was full of dreams of the things we'd do and the places we'd go.  But 10 years later, I was in an empty marriage.  Many nights, instead of putting Seth to bed, I'd put him in the backseat, go to Marion, and at the point where Rt 13 and Rt 57 intersect, I'd drive up the on-ramp, and down the either side, then cross over to the other direction and do the same.  Sometimes I drove that cloverleaf once, sometimes 2 or 3 times, until the need to escape could be contained.
     I was 33 years old when Emily was born with Down Syndrome. Mingled in all the joys that she brought in our lives, there still was grief over the things I imagined I had lost.  I became resigned that I would live my life out as the caretaker of an adult child.
     12 years later, when I met Ray, I was a single mother and traveling was the last thing on my mind.  It was Ray who encouraged me to let Emily attend a week-long camp for kids with disabilities.  The day I picked her up and she didn't want to come home, was the day that it occured to me that she had needed a vacation from me as much as I had needed a vacation from her. 
    Emily unexpectedly died 4 years later, at age 16, and we were abruptly thrust into an empty next.  Mingled with this overwhelming grief came the realization that one chapter of my life had closed, and another chapter was waiting to be written.  A chapter that could include traveling.
    Soon after Emily's death, it became evident that my mother's forgetfulness was much more than that and I set aside my dreams to help care for my parents. 
     Now, with both my parents gone,  it's time.  It's time to fulfill a dream.  It's time to travel.